Challenging the three-term Democrat are Republican Ken Jones, a former mayor of Tenino; Independent Democratic candidate George Barner, Port of Olympia commissioner; and Democrat Karen Rogers, Olympia City Council member.
The top two candidates in the Aug. 7 primary will move on to the November ballot. County Commissioner Sandra Romero’s Position Two seat is also up for election. Romero, a Democrat, has one challenger, Republican Andrew Barkis. Both will advance to the election.
Wolfe is looking to serve a fourth consecutive term. She said she looks forward to the county moving to the newly built Accountability and Restitution Center in 2013, continuing implementation of the recently adopted critical-areas ordinance and looking seriously looking into having impact fees for the county to supplement development.
“That’s been an issue for many years about growth paying for growth,” Wolfe said. “It’s been kind of an ethic of this community for many years that new growth should pay for new growth, and that has been difficult to implement up until now.”
Barner, a county commissioner of 16 years, said he would focus on the relationship between county government and residents. He said he also wants to create a way to foster new industry to provide jobs for those recently out of college, as well as for soldiers making the transition back to civilian life.
“We have to do a better job at working with our citizens,” Barner said. “They are paying the freight, paying the taxes; those are the people we look to, who give us our power to make decisions on their behalf.”
Rogers said she decided to run after constituents suggested her skills could be better used at the county level. Her priorities include keeping jobs in Thurston County and being responsible with county dollars, referencing the 2-year-old ARC that remains empty,
“The voters turned it down twice, but the jail was built anyway,” Rogers said. “That’s a big mistake.”
If elected, Jones hopes to use his experience serving rural residents in Tenino.
Jones is the only candidate living in rural Thurston County. The others live in Olympia.
“It has been too long … I can’t remember the last time we had a commissioner that lived anywhere but Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater,” he said.
His priorities include creating a positive business-and-development atmosphere, broadening the environmental policy and providing more diversity among the commissioners.
The budget is among the top priorities of all four candidates, each of whom takes a different approach in ensuring services are maintained despite budget constraints.
Jones said he would like to look into the rules and regulations for county permits. He said he thinks the county is using permits as a revenue generator instead of having permits cover true costs.
Development should pay for itself, “but anything above and beyond that is not a fair shake for customers or the citizens,” Jones said.
Rogers said she would like to find ways to restore funds to areas that should be priorities in the county, including public safety, roads and public health.
“I want to look at things like misused monies,” she said. “I want to look into that so when we do spend money, we are doing the follow-up to see if it did get spent the way we were supposed to spend it.”
Barner said his plan would be to analyze the revenue streams and start meeting with legislators.
“We need to tell them what counties are facing; it’s not pretty,” Barner said. “We don’t know where this economy is going to go, and if we go into another recession, we could be right back where we were five years ago, cutting the guts out of our organization.”
Wolfe has been through severe budget and personnel cuts. The county had to eliminate about 150 positions and $10 million three years ago, she said.
Since, Wolfe said, the county has tripled its reserve to $15 million.
“I think we are in good shape in the short run,” Wolfe said. “No county in the entire state is in good fiscal shape over the long haul because of the way we are funded by the state. But we are probably one of the most financially solvent; we are one of only 13 counties with a positive cash balance.”
The county recently approved the controversial critical-areas ordinance, which protects areas that are geologically hazardous, frequently flooded or critical for aquifer recharge; wetlands; and fish and wildlife habitats.
Wolfe was pleased that the ordinance passed, despite passionate opposition from community groups.
“We did everything we could to strike the balance between private-property rights and long-term care of the environment,” she said.
Her challengers disagree.
Jones said he did not agree with passing the ordinance in its current form.
“I think the CAO is way too big,” he said. “I think they have expanded the scope of that to the point that it becomes somewhat of an onerous addition to the document.”
Barner said that while he was a county commissioner in the 1980s, he drafted a similar ordinance called the “sensitive-areas ordinance” that protected areas that affect public health.
“I spent six hours at the courthouse on a Saturday and listened to the continual stream of angry citizens expressing their distress, upset, anger and distrust and probably the most of all was probably fear of county government,” he said. “They are afraid of the county’s reach, and I think the county has to stop and retrace its steps and go back and do outreach to talk to the citizens of this county.”
Rogers felt the ordinance should have been presented to the public again after the commissioners made several changes after the final public hearing in June.
“Now we have to read through and see where they made changes,” Rogers said. “I would imagine people are still going to have some concerns with it.”
Rogers went on to say she hopes the document can be amended as more “real-life scenarios” come through.
Wolfe agreed, saying the county will “keep an eye on it … and anything that needs to tweak” over the next several years.